In Great Britain and Europe
… Although I have made visits to the continent of Europe on a number of occasions during my life none had more meaning to me than those when I returned to the battlefields of Normandy with my former comrades in arms. I first returned in June 1964 at the time of the 20th anniversary of ‘D’ -Day, then again on the 25th anniversary, when our party was accompanied by the former Commanding Officer of the 191st Regiment, Brigadier M.W. Hope, D.S.O. who was able to describe in detail the tactics of each battle in which we had been engaged. This is the one and only time I took my car abroad – I did not enjoy the experience.
We made the pilgrimage again on the 40th anniversary, when there was a splendid parade and march past into the town square of Arromanches for inspection by the Queen and Prince Philip. However, the 50th anniversary in June 1994 was the most memorable of all. About 50 men, (including Major General T. A. Richardson, C.B.E., M.B.E., President of the Essex Yeomanry Association), attended memorial services at Bayeux Cemetery and Lyes; honoured our dead comrades by laying wreaths at many memorials and war cemeteries in the battlefield area, including the Essex Yeomanry Memorial at Asnelles; and finally took place in the most impressive parade I have ever attended. This was on Arromanches beach when the Queen, together with many members of the Royal Family, took the salute.
I felt very proud of the Yeomanry that day, particularly as we had been delayed in getting to the parade ground as a result of an accident in which our coach was involved. We had had lunch with the Mayor of Asnelles, who had presented medals to us, and General Richardson realised that the only way we were going to get to the parade on time was to return to the beach and board some of the 2nd World War vehicles parked there, some 2 miles from the parade ground – and ride up the beach to Arromanches. The 7,000 men already on parade looked on in disbelief. After we had marched past saluting; we reeled right, behind the General; marched in perfect step, out towards the sea; and went back to our vehicles to return the way we came. After I returned home I discovered that many friends had seen us on television. …
The following text accompanied the above newspaper clipping [sic]:
“A CROWD of a hundred and eighty revellers attended the ball organised by the Colchester branch of the Essex Yeomanry Old Comrades’ Association at the Red Lion Hotel, Colchester, last Friday evening.
In the top picture the Branch President, Capt. N. Norman-Butler, T.D., is seen wearing his badge of office, with which he was invested by Col. G. R. Judd, T.D., D.L., O.C. Essex Yeomanry, here seen admiring it. Also in the picture are Mr. F. Tuck, Capt, R, Browning-Smith, M.B.E., T.D., Councillor H. H. Reid and Mrs. Reid, and Mr. and Mrs. F. A. Jacklin.
The happy group in the lower picture includes Messrs. Noel Underdown (Chairman Colchester Branch), F. R. Johnson, F. Wilby and S. Parsonson.”
40th Anniversary of Normandy Landings.
Essex Yeomanry Visit to Yorkshire
VISIT TO HOLLAND AND BELGIUM
TREE PLANTING IN ESSEX YEOMANRY WAY
50TH ANNIVERSARY VISIT TO NORMANDY
[N.B. The following text was written by Felix R. Johnson, as part of one of the talks he gave to various clubs. After the first opening paragraph, Felix gave his audience a little of the background – setting the scene. Then he continued to talk about the trip itself. HAJ]
On June 4th, a party of some 50 former members of the Essex Yeomanry set out on a journey into the past. 50 years earlier, we were part of an army of several hundred thousand men who had embarked at ports all round the southern half of Britain to take part in the greatest invasion of the continent of Europe that had ever taken place. Almost 900 years earlier, the last successful invasion of England had been made from Normandy and we were about to reverse that event by landing in the homeland of those invaders. There was a difference, of course, as we were not going there to defeat the Normans but to rid their land of the common enemy. … …
The journey was quite tiring but eventful. We left Colchester about 7a.m. on June 4th and arrived in Bayeux some 12 hours later, having travelled via Dover. We stayed in the tourist centre at Bayeux, rather like a Youth Hostel – spartan but adequate.
On Sunday, June 5th we went to the village of Ver-sur-Mer, about 5 miles from Bayeux, to lay a wreath at the R.A. memorial of the 50th Division.
Then we visited the block-house on the sea front at Asnelles and, whilst we were there, Sgt. Palmer was interviewed by a German T.V. crew.
A correction is necessary, with reference to the text within the above-shown article (as kindly notified by Martin Crookston): The two gunners with Sgt. Bob Palmer at the ‘blockhaus’, on Asnelles/Le Hamel Beach, were Peter Crookston (not Gregson) and Don (not Den) Sadler.
A road in the vicinity of the block-house has been named ‘Cale de l’Essex Yeomanry’, in honour of the Regiment and we photographed this. While on the beach, Colonel Gosling, who had been wounded on ‘D’-Day, related his experiences on that day.
We then walked up into the village for a wreath-laying ceremony at the 231 Brigade memorial. This Brigade was commanded by Brig. Stanier, the elderly man interviewed on T.V., under whose command the 147 Regt. came for the landing.
Having some free time later in the day, a few of us took the opportunity to visit the Bayeux Museum in which the famous tapestry is housed. I had seen it many years earlier, but it still impressed me. I noted that it is now accompanied by a complete explanation of every section of the tapestry. Before the day ended some of us visited the Bayeux War Cemetery, where a few of our comrades are buried, among them Bdr. N. Bottoms.
Monday June 6th was an extremely busy day which was to culminate in the big parade at Arromanches, for the review by the Queen. We left Bayeux at 9 a.m. bound for Asnelles, where we were to meet the Mayor and lay a wreath on the Essex Yeomanry memorial. This was followed by a visit to Ryes Cemetery, about 2 miles away, where we attended the official service of remembrance in the presence of the Duke of York. The service was accompanied by the band of the Royal Marines and was very impressive. Services at Bayeux, Hermanville, Douvres-la-Delivrande and Ranville were held simultaneously at 11 a.m., each attended by a member of the Royal Family.
Leaving this ceremony at about 12.30, we hastily returned to Asnelles, where we were to have lunch with the Mayor. At this Luncheon all those who took part in the battle in Normandy were presented with a medal on behalf of the Regional Council of Normandy.
[N.B. The Médaille du Jubilé de Liberté was created by Conseil Régional Basse Normandie. Initially it was presented to veterans who took part in the ‘D’-Day landings of 6 June 1944, and who returned to Normandy in 1994, on the 50th anniversary. It is reported that approximately 35,000 veterans returned in that year but, because many veterans were unable to travel, more medals were distributed afterwards. If a veteran can prove entitlement, the Médaille can still be acquired. HAJ]
The lunch was running a bit late and we had to make a hurried departure just after 3 p.m. as we were supposed to be on parade in Arromanches by 3.30 p.m.
It was at this point that the plan came unstuck. The streets of Asnelles are very narrow and cars were parked all along one side of the street where our coaches had to make a sharp left turn. Unfortunately a passenger in one of the cars, who turned out to be German, opened his door just as the rear of the front coach was abreast with him and he was thrown back into the car. This incident caused a delay which, we all felt sure, would make it impossible for us to get to Arromanches in time for the parade. All, that is, except our President, Gen. Richardson, who was leading our party.
He had previously noticed that a number of wartime vehicles, over from England for the occasion, were parked on the beach at Asnelles, having been forbidden to get any nearer to the Review beach at Arromanches, about 2 miles away. He immediately told our coach drivers to return to the beach area, whereupon he contacted the officer responsible for holding the vehicles back and asked him to put them in touch with the parade commander at Arromanches (they were in radio contact). The upshot was that we were given the order to mount whatever vehicle we could get into and we moved off in line abreast down the beach to Arromanches.
I feel sure the thousands already on parade must have thought another invasion was underway. We got to within 200 yards of the parade and dismounted, then marched to our allotted position in the parade, arriving just ahead of the main guests. Thus we arrived, late on parade, but happily in time to take part in the review by the Queen.
General Richardson, to whom I give full marks for initiative, had obviously realised that we were not going to be able to get back to our coaches by marching off into Arromanches so, having passed the Reviewing Stand, instead of wheeling left up the slope into the town, wheeled our little party right across the sand and towards the sea, turning behind the parade back to the vehicles we came in. The artillery are not normally noted for their marching ability but I was back marker that day and I was proud of them; everyone was in step all the way across the parade ground – in full view of 6,000 old soldiers still waiting to march.
The next morning June 7th, one of the coaches was allocated to the men of the 191 Regt. to take us and any others who wished to come with us, along to the cemeteries and battlefield areas of interest to my Regiment. We were able to plant poppies on the graves of (many of) our comrades buried at Douvres-la-Delivrande and Ranville cemeteries.
We also visited the new Pegasus Bridge and the cafe there, the first building to be liberated in France. It is still run by the daughter of the proprietor who was in residence in 1944, when she was 4 years old.
I have already mentioned the village of Herouvillette, which is a short distance from the bridge. It is largely unchanged and seeing some of the buildings brought back some vivid memories of the night in 1944 when several of my friends were killed, or wounded.
We returned to Bayeux in time for lunch, after which some of us took the opportunity to do some shopping and visit the Military Museum at Bayeux, and in the evening we met for a final wreath laying ceremony at Bayeux Cemetery, before departing early next morning for our journey home.
It was a truly memorable week-end.
THE ESSEX YEOMANRY JOURNAL.
FOREWORD by Felix Johnson.
“When I was asked by the Chairman to write the Foreword for the 1997 Journal I had very mixed feelings.
How could I, a mere Battery QMS, follow the distinguished line of past contributions? However, it was pointed out to me that no-one representing a branch had written a foreword and, as Colchester Branch had had the longest continuous existence, I, having continuously served on its executive committee from its formation in July 1946, for most of that time as Treasurer, was considered an appropriate person to undertake the task.
I am honoured indeed, and glad to be able to express my feelings about the Yeomanry and its Association. The day Major C. A. C. Turner visited Colchester Town Hall, recruiting for a new Battery of Yeomen, remains a ‘red letter’ day in my life. It marked the beginning of my association with the Regiment and the fulfilment of a need, in common with many other men at that time, to do something positive about the Nazi menace which many of us felt was about to engulf us. It also introduced me to a first class body of men, most of whom I would not have met but for his visit. Through good times and bad the camaraderie and esprit de corps of the Yeomanry units in which I served was second to none and, on returning to civilian life, I hoped I would not lose touch with the comrades I had made. Fortunately the late Fred Jacklin called a meeting of all Essex Yeoman in the Colchester area which resulted in the formation of the local Branch. He and I became Joint Treasurers, Arthur Parsonson and a member of the Essex RHA becoming Joint Secretaries.
In the early days Fred Jacklin, a dedicated Yeoman, was the driving force behind our local functions, the most important of which were the re-union dinners. Until this year these have been semi-formal affairs, with guest speakers, so ably controlled by Noel Underdown, who has served as toastmaster for over 40 years. When Fred Jacklin retired he handed over his duties to me and, with the help of a very supportive Branch Executive Committee, we have endeavoured to maintain the standards he set. Over the years the social activities of the Branch have included smoking concerts, dances and an annual outing, mainly to old haunts in Norfolk and Suffolk, originally in a coach supplied and driven by Ron Copeman. On occasions we have travelled further afield, to Yorkshire and the Salisbury Plains on week-long tours. Though no longer under Branch sponsorship, our adopted driver, Colin Everitt, has since taken members on nostalgic tours to Scotland and abroad.
Apart from social activities the Branch has provided, and continues to maintain, a memorial in St. Peter’s Church, Colchester, a seat in Castle Park, and supplied trees to beautify Essex Yeomanry Way. It has, occasionally, given assistance to members in need, with the help of Association H.Q. I hope all members of the Branch feel, as I do, that it has all been worthwhile.
Unfortunately there is now no Essex Yeomanry presence in Colchester, and I am doubtful whether the Branch can survive far into the new millennium without new blood.
It is my fervent hope that, wherever there are units of Essex Yeomen, there will continue to be support for the local branches of the Association, because it is in the branches where most of the social activity takes place, and a central organisation without branches would be hard to maintain. The Association is too good to lose! F. J. Johnson
Born in Colchester in 1917, I am proud of my home town, proud to be an Essex man, and even more proud to have been an Essex Yeoman.
My life has been unremarkable but happy. After leaving the Colchester Royal Grammar School in 1934 I joined the staff of the Borough Accountant (later Borough Treasurer), where I remained, apart from my war service, until my retirement in 1979. I qualified as an accountant in 1949, and for the latter part of my service, was appointed Assistant Borough Treasurer. I am a typical ‘backroom boy’, deriving the greatest satisfaction from helping to devise and submit schemes to the Council through its committees, in the hope that they would eventually become Council policy. I have always taken an interest in local affairs and, for a time, was active on the Colchester Community Fund Council (the organisation which ran the local Carnival and Military Tattoo). Following retirement I served as a counsellor for the Citizens’ Advice Bureau until reaching the upper age limit.
I remain actively involved in a number of other local organisations.
Colonel R. B. Gosling writes:-
Felix joined 413 Bty. Of the 147th (Essex Yeomanry) Regiment RHA in the Spring of 1939, at Hythe Quay, Colchester, and was promoted BQMS in the summer of 1940. In December 1942 he was posted to the 191st (Herts & Essex Yeomanry) Fd. Regt. R.A., with a cadre from 413 Bty., to become BQMS of 532 Bty.
Landing in Normandy with 191 on 9th June 1944, he fought with the Regiment in France and Belgium until its disbandment in December 1944, and was Mentioned in Despatches. He was subsequently posted to 46 RHU, and demobilised in 1946.
After the War he has represented 191 on the General Committee of the Essex Yeomanry Association since 1976, while for the Colchester Branch of EYA he has been the driving force as Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer since its formation, and Branch President in 1966. As Chairman of the Essex Yeomanry Association, I am very glad to be able to take this opportunity to pay tribute to him on behalf of the Association, and the Colchester Branch in particular, for all he has done and is still doing for us, and to say “THANK YOU, Felix”.”
60TH ANNIVERSARY VISIT TO NORMANDY
[N.B. Above: Le conseil régional de Basse-Normandie created a special badge for 2004. It paid tribute to veterans who had taken part in the 1944 Operation Overlord. It was presented to those who returned to Normandy, on the 60 Anniversary of ‘D’-Day, in 2004. Felix and his fellow Yeoman were presented with their badges by the Mayor of Asnelles, at Asnelles Town Hall, on 6 June 2004. HAJ]